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How global flows of toxic mercury impact human health

Global flows of toxic mercury
Spatial distributions of net mercury emissions embodied in the international trade and prominent net flows of mercury emissions between the world regions. Credit: Xing et al.

Almost half of mercury exposure comes from mercury embedded in global trade, according to an analysis of the global flows of the toxic metal. Mercury is a neurotoxin that harms human health in even very small doses.

Zhencheng Xing, Ruirong Chang, and their colleagues traced the element through international trade routes from sites of pollution to exposure in the environment, and accounted for the resulting impacts. The authors linked a emission inventory, a global multi-regional input-output model, a coupled atmosphere-land-ocean-ecosystem model, and an exposure-risk-valuation model to investigate the global biogeochemical mercury cycle.

The world emits about 1,800 megagrams of mercury annually. Most of these global emissions are linked to the smelting and pressing of non-ferrous metals, particularly during artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

Mercury used in these processes can wash downstream and become airborne, polluting soil, rivers and parts of the ocean. People are then exposed through eating seafood, , or rice—sometimes many thousands of miles away from the mercury's source.

Many developed , including the United States and Japan, can be classified as outsourcers of mercury because developed countries are the ultimate consumers of gold, electric equipment, machinery, and other products whose production produces mercury pollution, but such countries are spared exposure. According to the authors, strategies to tackle mercury exposure should include both production-side controls and demand-side measures, including consumption taxes to influence consumer behavior.

The work is published in the journal PNAS Nexus.

More information: Zhencheng Xing et al, International trade shapes global mercury–related health impacts, PNAS Nexus (2023). DOI: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgad128

Journal information: PNAS Nexus

Provided by PNAS Nexus

Citation: How global flows of toxic mercury impact human health (2023, May 24) retrieved 19 July 2024 from
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